In one "Battle of the Decades" round that aired in September 2014, three contestants with scientific backgrounds squared off: (from left) aerospace engineer Tom Nosek, psychology grad student Pam Mueller, and meteorologist Russ Schumacher, who won the round.

Feature: This popular TV game show has a thing for science: What is Jeopardy!?

Science takes a look at the science on Jeopardy!—and the scientists who have won big on the popular TV program. This "smart person's game show" has for many decades offered clues that require answers in the form of questions, and many of those clues explore the history of science or cutting-edge research. The show's writers carefully research the science clues so there is no more than one correct response—but sometimes contestants prove them wrong. Among the many scientists who have won multiple times on the show are the new CEO of AAAS (publisher of Science) and a bioinformaticist who set a single game record when he won $77,000. Bonus material for the story includes a science quiz, a video on one contestant's winning strategy, and a compilation of research papers about Jeopardy!.

To read the full story, see the 1 May issue of Science.


 The science of Jeopardy!

The scientific literature contains a number of analyses related to Jeopardy!. Here are a few.

A. Metrick, “A Natural Experiment in ‘Jeopardy!’.” The American Economic Review 85, 1 (March 1995): 240–253. “This paper uses the television game show ‘Jeopardy!’ as a natural experiment to analyze behavior under uncertainty and the ability of players to choose strategic best responses.”

E. Boyle and Z. Shapira, “The Liability of Leading: Battling Aspiration and Survival Goals in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.” Organization Science 23, 4 (July–August 2012): 1100–1113. “We show that leaders are prone to take excessive risks to maintain their leadership position. We refer to this phenomenon as the liability of leading. Our study context is a naturally occurring experiment in strategic decision making, the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.”

G. T. Gilbert and R. L. Hatcher, “Wagering in Final Jeopardy!.” Mathematics Magazine 67, 4 (October 1994): 268–277. “We look for a reasonable strategy for wagering in Final Jeopardy!

H. Rachlin, “Making IBM's Computer, Watson, Human.” Behav Anal. 35, 1 (Spring 2012): 1–16. “This essay uses the recent victory of an IBM computer (Watson) in the TV game, Jeopardy, to speculate on the abilities Watson would need, in addition to those it has, to be human.”

J. K. Floyd, “A Discrete Analysis of ‘Final Jeopardy.’” The Mathematics Teacher 87, 5 (May 1994): 328–331. “How can the leader entering FJ [Final Jeopardy] define an optimum strategy, one that maximizes the chance to be invited back for the next show.”

MN Khan et al., “Comparison of jeopardy game format versus traditional lecture format as a teaching methodology in medical education.” Saudi Medical Journal 32, 11 (November 2011): 1172–6. “The game format teaching strategy has an added advantage in retaining knowledge of the subject for a longer time compared with a lecture format.”

P. Headley, “How I Lost on Jeopardy!.” Math Horizons 6, 4 (April 1999): 27–28. “… we shall see that even this simple game illustrates the paradoxes and pitfalls of game theory, the branch of mathematics devoted to the study of strategy in games.”

T. J. Linneman, “Gender in Jeopardy! Intonation Variation on a Television Game Show.” Gender & Society 27, 1 (February 2013): 82–105. “I use the popular game show Jeopardy! to study variation in the use of uptalk among the contestants 'responses, and argue that uptalk is a key way in which gender is constructed through interaction.”